Que by Mary B. Harris

HE was a wee bit of a boy to carry the United States mail on his back, seven miles, every day. He was only eleven years old, and as long, to an inch, as the mail bag, which was just three feet and eleven inches long. When he went along the road, you would sometimes see him, and sometimes the bag; that was as you happened to be on this or the other side of him. Many persons’ hard hearts have been made to open a crevice, at sight of the little fellow, to let a little jet of pity spirt out for him. But “The Point” ran out three miles and a half to the south of the county road and the stage coach, and the nearest coach post-office; and because it was only a small point, and sparsely settled, it couldn’t afford a horse for the short distance; and because it was a short distance, no man, or boy, who was able to do a full day’s work, would break into it to walk the seven miles; and because it was seven miles, no one who was not well could walk so far every day, and the year round. So it happened that the job was up for bids one spring, and the person who would carry the mail from Gingoo to the Point for the smallest amount of money, was to have it for a year.

One woman offered to carry it for eighty dollars; another for seventy; one big boy offered for sixty-five; he’d make the girls at home do the work, he said,—they hadn’t anything else to do,—and he would give them each a new ribbon to pay for it: and between you and me, I am very glad that that boy didn’t get the job.

Without saying a word to his family about it, Que made up his mind that he would carry the mail himself. When the others sent in their bids he sent in his, for fifty dollars. So it happened that Que  was mail-carrier. He was so little and bow-legged, that there were not many things that he could do; for instance, he couldn’t run. His head and feet were very large, and his arms and intermediate body very small; therefore he could dream and wonder what he should do when he grew up, and walk (with care) as much as he pleased, but was not a favorite among the boys in playing games.

Of course he was not baptized into the name Que, but was called, by his parents and the christening minister, John Quincy Adams Pond, Jr.; named for his father, you see. They began to call him Que before he was out of his babyhood; for they had one boy named John Lee, but as they always called him Lee, they entirely forgot that fact till after the ceremony of Que’s christening. And they really weren’t much to blame, for they had nine other boys, and poor memories; and though both are misfortunes, they can’t be helped. To avoid mixing their two Johns, they called one Lee and the other Que.

Que looked upon seven miles a day as no walk at all, and upon fifty dollars a year as a fortune, and upon “United States mail-carrier” as a title little below “Hon.” or “Esq.” He had hoped, all his life, that he should, some fine day, have a right to one or the other of these titles. Probably the fact that his name already ended with a “Jr.” excited his ambition in that particular direction. Money and dignity seemed to Que the two things most to be desired in life, unless I might add a small family.

Now, we will leave Que’s antecedents behind, and go on to his life while he carried the mail; and a very queer little life it was, as you will say when you get to the end of it, though I don’t know when that will be, for Que isn’t there himself yet. The mail contract was from July 1, 1860, to July 1, 1861, and if your mathematics are in good running order, you will see that that was just a year.

July 1, 1860, was as fine a day in Gingoo as any day in the year; and Que was in as high spirits as on any day in the course of his life. Unfortunately the mail coach reached Gingoo exactly at forty minutes past eleven, unless the driver got drunk or fell asleep, which happened about two hundred and forty days in the year. But whether sober, drunk, or asleep, the four coach horses always stood before Gingoo office door by twelve o’clock at latest.

It makes no difference to you or to me when the coach stood there; but it made a great deal of difference to Que, for twelve o’clock on the finest day in the year, and that day the first of July, is apt to be rather warm; and in the year 1860 it was very warm. Nevertheless, at quarter past twelve, Que started with the bag. I, happening to be at the right side of him, saw only the bag start with Que.

Perhaps you don’t see why Que should have started right in the heat of the day; but if you had been Que, and could have heard all the Pointers clamoring for their mail, you would have started just when Que did. The mail-bag was made of very dark leather, and drew the sun tremendously. Now, as Que had on a pair of light linen pants and a little gray lined coat, of course he ought to have walked between the bag and the sun; but not being a scientific boy, he didn’t think of that, and slung the bag over his sunny shoulder, and from that height it trailed to the ground.

Que walked on as fast as he could, trying not to think too much of the heat and the weight; but the peculiar odor that the sun brought from the leather bag was blown up his nose, and down his throat, and into his ears, by a strong south wind that blew, and before Que had time to think whether he had better or better not, he was lying fast asleep by the side of the  road, on the grass; rather he was lying on the mail-bag, and that was lying on the grass. Why didn’t he fall on the other side? For two reasons; first, he was attracted mail-bag way by the sleepy odor before spoken of; and secondly, the weight was all that way, and as he began to sleep before he began to drop, of course the bag was his natural bed when he did drop.

The Point road was lonesome, and it must have been quite an hour before any one came that way. Then a man and two horses, and a cart loaded high with laths, were seen coming over the hill; that is, they would have been seen, if Que hadn’t been asleep just then.

“Hollo! what’s all this?” said the driver when he got opposite the bag and Que.

“All this” neither stirred nor spoke.

“Whoa! whoa, there!” called the driver to his horses.

Now, if Que had been taking only a light, after-dinner nap, he would have been wide awake as soon as the cart stopped; for the hill was a long one, and the rumbling had been as long, and merely from lack of that lullaby, a well-conditioned boy should have wakened at once. But Que didn’t.

“I declare,” said the driver, “if it ain’t that bran new mail-boy!” Thereupon he went up and looked at him; but not being of a magnetic temperament, he didn’t wake Que that way.

“Bless the chick, if he isn’t dead asleep,” continued the driver, talking to himself. This driver had a habit of talking to himself, for he said, “then he was always sure of having somebody worth talking to.”

“Now, won’t those Pointers growl for their mail, when it is a couple of hours late? The first day, too! Que’ll catch it.” Then he gave Que a little roll, so that he rolled from the bag over into the grass.

“Well, I always was a good-natured fellow. Guess I’ll take his bag along for him, and save him the scolding.”

So the driver threw the bag on top of the load of laths, and left the bag-boy to sleep it out.

When Que had slept half an hour longer, he started up, staring wide awake.

“I’ve been asleep,” said Que; and so he had.

“My bag’s been and gone,” continued Que; and so it had.

But he was a bright boy, and all the brighter, perhaps, for having just been asleep; so he looked round, which is a very good thing to do when you get into trouble, and the very thing that half the people in the world never think to do.

“There are tracks in the grass; and there is a cart-track in the dust, and it had two horses, and these foot-tracks went back to it. Why, the lath man must have taken it;” and so he had.

Que started towards the Point as fast as he could go, and consequently, when he got there, which was just fifty minutes after the bag got there, he had no breath left to ask any questions about it. Still he panted on to the post-office.

“Who are you?” asked the postmaster.

“I’m—a—bag,” gasped Que.

“Bag of wind!” said the postmaster, emphatically.

“A—mail—bag!” said Que.

“Humph! So you’re the new mail boy—are you? Send your bag down by express, and came yourself by accommodation—didn’t you?”

“The lath man’s got it; where is he?” Que had recovered his breath a little by this time.

“I don’t know anything about the lath man,” growled the postmaster.

But when Que began to cry, which he did at once, the postmaster couldn’t stand that, for he had no children of his own, and his feelings, consequently, weren’t  hardened; so he dragged the bag from a corner, and threw it on Que’s back.

“There, take your bag, and go home, and don’t be two hours late the first day, next time.” He didn’t stop to think that there cannot be two first days to the same thing. Que didn’t stop to think of it, either, but started homewards as fast as his bow-legs would let him. I think he approximated more nearly to running, that day, than he ever had done in his life before.

Que’s nine brothers treated him with great respect, when he got home. The family had been to tea, but each one had saved some part of his supper for Que; so, though he had an indigestible mixture, there was plenty of it,—while it lasted.

“Did you have a good time, Que?”

“Was it fun?”

“Did you get anything for it?”

“Did you get tired?”

“Going to keep it up?”

“Can’t I go next time?”

“Do you like it?”

“Did you see any boys?”

“Anybody give you a lift?”

How all together the questions did come! But the confusion of them saved Que from the trouble of answering the nine boys, and as soon as there was a lull, his father said,—

“You were gone some time, sir; I hope you didn’t stop to play on the road?”

“O, no, sir,” said Que. “I haven’t played at all;” which was very true, you know.

“Did there seem to be many letters?” asked his mother; and be it understood, that she asked quite as much because Que looked as if the bag had been heavy, as from feminine curiosity.

“Didn’t notice, ma’am; the bag wasn’t very heavy;” and it wasn’t, except on his conscience, and he knew his mother didn’t mean that, at all.

For several weeks after that everything went on smoothly enough. Que had a pretty good time, and found it some fun, and felt that he was getting something for it, and didn’t get very tired, and kept it up, and never took any of his brothers with him, and liked the business, and saw a good many boys, and got a large number of “lifts” from hay-carts and wagons, and particularly from the lath man. So, in course of time, all the brothers’ questions were satisfactorily answered.

It is a way that the world has, to let you trip once, and then run on smooth ground some time, before it puts another snag in your way; and it made no exception in Que’s favor. His drab clothes kept clean a long time, in spite of the leather bag, and washed well when they were not clean. The Gingoo postmaster took a fancy to him, and the Point post master refrained from tormenting him. The mails were not unbearably heavy nor the month of July remarkably hot after the first. Que had a good appetite for his supper, and plenty of supper to show it on, and slept long and heavily every night and a part of every morning, and thought that the world was a pretty good kind of place, after all. But that was only because he hadn’t come to the second snag yet.

One day, in the first end of August, a wind sprang up. It wasn’t a very uncommonly high wind, only no one was expecting it, because the days had been muggy, and that made every one say, “Why, what a high wind there is to-day!”

You and I can’t tell why the wind should have gone on rising through the forenoon; but we can guess, which will answer our purpose just as well; for you know it is but little more than that that your father and his friends, and father’s father and his friends, do, when they meet together and “express opinions.”

 I guess that the wind rose higher through the forenoon because, as soon as it began to play about in the morning, it caught the whisper of people’s surprise, and thought it would take the hint, and blow them up a little.

“What a dickens of a wind!” said Que, when he stood, or tried to stand, on top of the hill with his bag.

Que had learned all the easy ways of carrying that bag long ago; of strapping it in a little roll over his shoulders when it wasn’t very full; of carrying it on his head when it had enough inside to balance just right, and of strapping it round his body when it had nothing in it. But, as the days had been all stormless alike, he had been obliged to adapt himself only to the conditions of the bag, and not at all to the state of the weather.

As the masculine mind is capable of taking in only one idea at a time, as soon as Que put his mind to the state of the weather, it drew itself away from the manner of carrying the bag.

“Wish I had something between me and the wind,” sighed he.

Just then the wind blew off his hat, to teach him the polite order of mentioning two persons, of whom himself was one.

Que followed after it as fast as he could, and let the bag drop beside him, and by chance it hung from his neck to the windward side.

The wind blew very strong.

“I do declare,” said he, “I shouldn’t wonder a bit if the wind blew me away.”

Que was a truthful boy; but he did wonder very much when he found, two seconds afterwards, that the wind was blowing him away. But he didn’t wonder at all, when he lay, a minute later, against a huge apple tree; partly because people generally get through wondering when they are at the end of anything, but mostly because the blow stunned Que, so that he didn’t know anything for an hour.

When he gradually came to himself, he didn’t know where he was. Then a little wind shook a green apple down on his nose, and he concluded that he was under an apple tree; which was quite correct.

Then he looked about to see whether he was in the United States or not; he saw the five juniper trees that had been standing in a row, half a mile from his father’s house, ever since he could remember, and concluded that he must be; wherein he was again quite correct.

Then he wondered if any one would come for him, for he felt so stiff and sore that he thought he never could go home alone.

“They’ll come for me, I know; for if I’ve had a gale they must have had one; and if they have had one they’ll know that I’ve had one. Of course they’ll come.”

Que felt round for his mail-bag, and got his head on it, and waited. While he was lying there it occurred to him that the people down in the village wouldn’t have been walking about with bags broader than themselves to windward of them, and mightn’t have felt the breeze as he did; so his last reasoning wasn’t correct at all.

“I’ll bet they didn’t feel it a bit!” thought Que; and by this time he was so fully in possession of his original faculties, that his reasoning was quite correct again. No one else had felt the gale.

Que put his head on the bag and thought that his end had come, and so cried himself to sleep.

His family had not felt the gale very heavily; but when tea-time came, and Que didn’t, they felt that; and when darkness came, and Que didn’t, they felt  that; and when a report came, with a growl, from the Point that they wanted their mail, Que’s father started out with a lantern to find it.

Que, having finished his nap, felt better, and tried to get up; but his ankle didn’t want to move; and when he tried again it actually wouldn’t move; so he lay down again to wait and watch. When he saw the lantern go by, he called, and his father came.

“What are you doing here, sir?”

“Nothing,” said Que.

“Get up, then.”

“I can’t,” said Que.

“You’ve been asleep, sir.”

“Yes, sir,” said Que.

“What have you done with the mail-bag?”

“It is the mail-bag that’s done with me,” said Que.

Then his father took him by the collar, and stood him up, and saw at once what was the matter. Que had sprained his ankle.

It seemed to Que, during the next four weeks, as if that ankle never would heal; but it did at last, and John Lee, who had carried the mail in the mean time, was loath to give the job to Que again. He felt for Que through his pain, but charged him one twelfth of fifty dollars for doing his work a month, and would like to do it a while longer.

There isn’t much more to tell of Que as a mail-boy. The end of the year found him the possessor of forty-five dollars and five shillings.

The next year the Point afforded a horse, and Que took the mail on the horse’s back; the year following they had a horse and wagon, and Que drove that; when they have a railway I have no doubt Que will be a conductor; and when the mail is blown through a tunnel, Que, of course, will blow it.

Even the second snag, you see, needn’t lay you a dead weight on the earth.